As Myanmar unrest spreads, UNHCR calls for calm and access to displaced people

Briefing Notes, 30 October 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed by the renewed escalation of violence in western Myanmar's Rakhine state over the past week, which according to government estimates has displaced more than 28,000 people. It is clearly urgent that law and order be restored to prevent further violence, and that access is facilitated so that aid can be provided to those in need.

Since the inter-communal unrest began on 21 October, the Rakhine state authorities estimate that dozens of people have been killed and over 4,600 homes burnt in the townships of Minbya, Myebon, Mrauk-U, Pauk Taw, Rathedaung, Kyauk Phyu, Ramree and Kyauk Taw.

Last weekend, UNHCR joined an inter-agency visit to some of the affected areas. We saw widespread destruction and displacement. Our staff noted that many of the internally displaced people are in extremely hard-to-reach areas.

More than 3,000 people have fled in boats towards the state capital Sittwe to seek assistance in existing IDP camps. The camps in and around Sittwe are already hosting most of the 75,000 people who remain displaced from the wave of violence that broke out in Rakhine state in June this year. With the new influx, these already overcrowded camps are being stretched beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water. Food prices in the area have doubled and there are not enough doctors to treat the sick and wounded.

Many displaced people have also found shelter with communities near and in the IDP camps at Sittwe, while unknown numbers have fled into the hills in locations such as Pauk Taw and Myebon. It is estimated that another 6,000 people are stranded on boats or on islets along Myanmar's western coast. They are looking for safe access to places where they can receive assistance.

Some affected people remain in their villages, living in poor conditions and waiting in hope that they can rebuild their homes. There are reports that people are receiving threats that their homes will be burnt, prompting some to flee in fear.

As part of the overall UN response and as an immediate measure to address the urgent humanitarian needs, UNHCR is sending tarpaulin supplies to provide shelter for 2,000 people in the villages of Minbya township. More plastic sheets, blankets and mosquito nets are on their way to Sittwe. This is in addition to relief supplies and basic aid items for around 54,000 people in IDP sites which our teams have distributed over the past few months.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is appealing to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for those people seeking safety from the ongoing unrest in Rakhine state. We stand ready to assist governments in addressing this evolving humanitarian emergency.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

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  • In Bangkok: Vivian Tan, mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Climate change and displacement

In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.

The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.

When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.

Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

Climate change and displacement

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